De Smith on Player Safety: Actions Speak Louder than Words


Football is a dangerous game, but is the game itself in danger?

Given the popularity of the sport and the week Indianapolis just witnessed, it’s almost unthinkable that anything could threaten of the dominance of the NFL in the United States. Still there is much the custodians of the game have to worry about


DeMaurice Smith with Pam Oliver at the NFLPA Legends Brunch

Courtesy: Kevin A. Koski/NFLPA

Having just survived a potentially crippling lockout, the NFL is now facing an even tougher fight: keeping its players safe. Recent reports from Purdue University suggest that a series of hits rather than one catastrophic blow can result in concussions. In light of new research, some wonder if football is safe for anyone to play. At the NFLPA Legends Brunch, one of the first questions fans asked former NFL greats was how they felt physically, years after leaving the game they played so well for so long.

In part to assure the public that it is on top of the situation, the NFL has begun a safety campaign highlighted by a Super Bowl ad emphasizing safety changes in the game through the years.

On Sunday, I asked NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith a few questions about the campaign. Fresh off a successful CBA negotiations, the NFLPA has secured the immediate financial future of the players, and now must keep a wary eye on the ever developing safety research, especially as the NFL considers a possible 18 game season in the near future.

Colts Authority: You’re a much more popular person this year than you were at this time last year. Congratulations.

Smith: Even in my own household! It’s good to be back. We love the game obviously, but sometimes the business of the game gets in the way of the game of the game. It was a good deal for us and a good deal for the owners. We’re just happy it’s Super Bowl Sunday.

CA: Why should fans be paying attention to the whole labor/NFL dynamic now that there’s a long term deal in place?

Smith: I’m not sure they should focus on it, but part of the fight we had was just reminding people, ordinary working men and women, that if you can stand together as a group of collective people who are trying to make change…whether it’s in the safety of your own work environment, whether it’s fair pay, whether it’s a good pension, those issues are ordinary American issues. While it came in the context of very well compensated athletes, it does seem to me that we do have to constantly embrace, and can never forget, that all of the strides that are made in respect to work place safety, fair pensions, or fair pensions come from ordinary working people being able to stand together.

CA: What are your thoughts on the safety ad airing tonight?

Smith: We believe that actions speak louder than words. There is never going to be a day when the Players Association is not going to be extremely aggressive about issues of safety. I think an ad is great to let people know what’s going on, but the real way that we move forward and make things safer is ensuring our players are safe and that the game constantly evolves into a safer one.

CA: Is safety and the possible introduction of an 18 game season the next frontier of discussion?

Smith: Safety is an everyday concern and we always look at it as a construct that we continually work through. There is no big event on the horizon. There is no singular issue. Our job is to look at the issue of safety as a holistic one and to take very aggressive steps to make sure it remains safe.